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Suzy Menkes

Vogue International Editor Suzy Menkes is the best-known fashion journalist in the world. After 25 years commenting on fashion for the International Herald Tribune (rebranded recently as The International New York Times), Suzy Menkes now writes exclusively for Vogue online, covering fashion worldwide.

Imperor Valentino at his Table

Suzy Menkes on «At the Emperor’s Table» — the exquisitely presented book that tells you not only how to create «petals» out of tomatoes and to decorate a goat’s cheese flan, but also how to offer it to your guests

30 Октября 2014

Alfresco lunch on the veranda in Gstaad — Oberto Gili
Alfresco lunch on the veranda in Gstaad — Oberto Gili
“I hope they have a table too,” I joked to Valentino, referring to the pugs who were running around the designer’s grand London drawing room, where a library of books fills the walls.
 
We were talking about At the Emperor’s Table – the exquisitely presented book that tells you not only how to create “petals” out of tomatoes and to decorate a goat’s cheese flan, but also how to offer it to your guests.

London. One of a pair of figural silver salt cellars, by Maison Odiot, Paris, 19th century; one of a set of 30 indigo-dyed napkins, embroidered with VG monogram, from Cesari; on the left, a composite set of Chinese export blue and white plates, Qianlong period, ca. 1770. One of a pair of American silver overlay bottle decanters and stoppers, ca. 1930; a fine set of ten blue and white Chinese export plates of lobed form with a scene of young boys at play in a garden, Kangxi period (1662–1722), ca. 1680. — Oberto Gili

And how! On Valentino’s tables, sumptuous platters, priceless Russian Imperial china and snow-white Meissen swans dress up the art of eating in Valentino’s various homes.
 
But before we go on to the discussion about which china is most suited to a Swiss chalet in Gstaad, which for the New York pied-a-terre and which for the boat as it sails into Capri, Valentino was taking my question about the pug’s dietary requirements very seriously (I believe we were referring to Maud).

Gstaad Table set with a large Sceaux faience tureen in the shape of lettuce, late 18th century; German porcelain tureen in the shape of asparagus, late 18th or early 19th century; fluted glass service with green rims. Painting of birds picking cherries from a Delft bowl, Spanish School, ca. 1800 — Oberto Gili

He led me into an adjacent room where, in front of a glowing fireplace, stood a small table. “It’s Lalanne,” said Valentino, referring to the sculptors of nature. “And the nuts on top are there for the pugs.”
 
I have had the good fortune to dine at Valentino’s tables, especially at Wideville, his chateau outside Paris, where I see in my mind’s eye the copious beds of roses, a stretch of lavender as far as the eye can see and the little grotto at the end of the long lawn.

New York. Eighteen Russian porcelain dinner plates and seven matching soup plates, St. Petersburg, reign of Nicholas I (1825–55); pair of George II silver trencher salts, ca. 1720s; Mexican silver table service, by Tane, 20th century. — Oberto Gili

I have eaten dinner laid out on long tables for a post-couture celebration along the terrace, and more intimate meals with the crisp blue of Qianlong china that transported me, metaphorically speaking, to the designer’s sea-going vessel TM Blue One .

T.M. Blue One ( Mr. Valentino’s yacht); Tureen from a reproduction porcelain dinner service set, after an 1820 Torquay design, Staffordshire; tumblers from a set of sixteen Ralph Lauren crystal tumblers with vertical blue stripes. — Oberto Gili

But until we sat down and talked, I had no idea about Valentino’s passion for collecting plates, glasses or silver salt cellars  - and his joy at putting them together with the right flowers and even the right serviettes.
 
“I always love pink and blue napkins – and white, but that is more for a banquet, less cosy or private,” says the designer.
 
If it seems as though Valentino took as much trouble with his couture collections as he did when he chose the china for London’s blue dining room and the boat’s subtly different blue and white Staffordshire porcelain, set off by mock tortoiseshell cutlery that tones with the passatelli’s tomato sauce.

Wideville. A casual lunch is set under the garden gazebo. Left to right: Carlos Souza, Charlene Shorto, Valentino Garavani, and Giancarlo Giammetti. — Oberto Gili

The maestro would agree.

“In a certain way, I have put together my relationship between what I did until four years ago and what I did now the for this book,’’ Valentino says. “’The idea of the plate is a creation not far from preparing a beautiful evening gown, where I put flowers with a bow and a ruffle. I am finding something to put together on a table top to make it more recherché than a classic, spare table.”

Wideville. Valentino invites his guests to his gracious table set for afternoon tea in the garden. — Oberto Gili

The result is simply sumptuous in this book, published by Maison Assouline, with photographs by Oberto Gili and an introduction by André Leon Talley.

Valentino and Anne Hathaway
Valentino and Anne Hathaway

You could not possibly describe it as a coffee-table tome. More a champagne glass of a book (the flutes complete with VG monogram for Valentino Garavani). However much one might be tempted to prop up the book in the kitchen for the recipe for a Torta caprese (“Take 300 grams of dark chocolate…”), it might be wiser to snap the instructions first on a smart phone.

Wideville. A painted tôle and porcelain eighteen-branch composition chandelier, Meissen, 19th century and later, hangs above a table set with a pair of French silver-gilt asparagus dishes and stands, by G. Keller, Paris, late 19th century; pair of cut-glass tazze with Fabergé mark below the imperial warrant, ca. 1885. — Oberto Gili

But Valentino – who warmly praises his chef Jonathan Surin, “who travels with me all over the world”, and the ever-smiling Michael Kelly, his butler, factotum and magical maître d’, “who knows my taste better than I do”, Valentino does not have his head only in dreams.


He also has banished sugar, replacing it with natural sugar alternative, xylitol. And however complex the recipe for Potato and Turbot Timbale, it is nowhere near as heavy as a complete Meissen porcelain dinner service, including figures carrying salt and pepper serving bowls.

Carlos Souza, part of the Valentino fashion family also has his own book out, Carlos’s Places
Carlos Souza, part of the Valentino fashion family also has his own book out, Carlos’s Places

Martine and Prosper Assouline used the opportunity of the book launch to celebrate the opening of their first flagship book store on London’s Piccadilly.
The Valentino gang included Giancarlo Giammetti (described by Valentino as “my best friend” ) and Carlos Souza, one of the designer’s extended fashion family, who suggested the idea. Souza has published a book of his own, Carlos’s Places , suggesting where to dine, find beaches, restaurants, and fashion from Capri to Rio.

Valentino and Hugh Grant
Valentino and Hugh Grant

Add Hugh Grant, Anne Hathaway and Kylie Minogue to give the London event some celebrity juice.
 
But this is a book that will surely sell – especially before the holiday season – on its own merits: a chance to sit “at the emperor’s table”. And to dream.


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